Stronger Review: A Respectful, If Unchallenging, Portrait

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There’s something to be said for well done schmaltz. Stronger is an infectious film simply because it’s story is both amazing and true, and director David Gordon Green succeeds in stirring emotion out of both. Unlike Peter Berg’s Patriot’s Day, which aimed to suck audiences in with Mark Wahlberg’s fictional cop hero, Stronger is about the impact of real life Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal). It’s about the healing process and the new normal in every aspect of his life, but with a heavy focus on his romance with Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany). Even if the film doesn’t take any real risks, it all works just well enough to derive a feeling out of us.

In trying to win his girlfriend back, Jeff showed up to support her at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon. The explosion cost him both his legs, but he did get just long enough a look at one of the bombers beforehand to aid the FBI in their search. After the fact, he’s paraded around Boston by his mother (Miranda Richardson, evoking Melissa Leo from The Fighter) to solidify him as the town’s hero. But he just wants to start getting better and spend time with Erin. These two forces continually come to a head, laying tense exchange on tense exchange to explore the state of Jeff’s mind after his traumatic experience.

Stronger doesn’t go over any unfamiliar ground in its undertaking of PTSD, but it does a very good job showing us Jeff’s specific situation and how everything affects him. Gyllenhaal is terrific here, giving legitimate weight to a role while staying completely in line with the film’s accessible, audience friendly tone. But it’s Maslany who aims a little higher and clears the bar with ease. The film never really communicates where she’s from and how she got here, but the Orphan Black star pulls off some amazing feats, giving Erin a very unique relationship with the city of Boston itself. And as Jeff is thrust more and more into a role of representing the city’s perseverance to the masses, she’s forced to examine that relationship.

But if you take away Gyllenhaal, Maslany, and Richardson, Stronger doesn’t have much going for it to separate it from the pack of big, warm, inspirational stories. It hits a lot of the same notes films like it have before, and doesn’t really try to do much new with them. You’ll cry when the film wants you to cry for the reasons it wants you to cry, which ultimately makes it feel a little manipulative, though not to the point of derailment. Stronger is a good movie. Is it the great one the coverage of this event deserves? Not quite, it’s no United 93, but it’s closer than most. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

One Response to Stronger Review: A Respectful, If Unchallenging, Portrait

  1. uh-HUH says:

    How many fathoms of deepness? But seriously, I want to see this.

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